Article and photo by Kotie Geldenhuys
For the past couple of years South Africans have witnessed the fall of one national police commissioner after another, resulting in Pres Zuma's track record of appointing National Police Commissioners being questioned. None of the commissioners appointed by the President, in a permanent capacity, had any police experience or understood the police environment. This resulted in numerous calls being made by interested parties, role-players and the general public to appoint a seasoned police member who had gone through the ranks and who knows the policing environment as the next national police commissioner. Finally, after more than two years during which two acting national commissioners had to steer the SAPS following the suspension of Riah Phiyega, the announcement came: the newly appointed national police commissioner is indeed a career policeman.
The appointment of Gen Khehla John Sitole on 23 November 2017 as the SAPS's Top Cop has been widely welcomed. He joined the police in 1986, proceeded through the ranks and knows the police environment. At the time of his appointment, he was the Divisional Commissioner of Protection and Security Services. We trust that this time around we have a policeman in the top position to whom young police members can look up for guidance and inspiration; a leader who can remind them what discipline is and who will lead by example by doing the right things right.
On 27 November 2017, the Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, officially handed the sword of command to Gen Khehla John Sitole during a special parade at the Tshwane Police Academy in Pretoria. On receiving the sword of command, Gen Sitole took charge of the SAPS. The sword symbolises righteousness and justice as well as the expected efforts of the police to render a fair, unpartisan and apolitical service to the community. As the recipient of the sword, Gen Sitole obliges himself to serve his country with loyalty, courage, dignity and honour, and to execute his duties and responsibilities with zeal and diligence, setting a good example to those placed under his command as incumbent of this very important post.
Crime and criminality affects all of us. To ensure the safety of all the citizens of the country, the SAPS needs a strong, determined, disciplined and strategic leadership. During the handing over ceremony, Mr Mbalula said: "The President has asked me to use this opportunity to encourage the leadership of the SAPS, rank and file, to give their full cooperation and support to Gen Sitole to ensure that the strategic objectives of the SAPS are achieved. I urge all SAPS members and Public Service Act personnel in our environment to rally behind the leadership, which ultimately strengthens the image of the SAPS and enhances cohesion in the organisation holistically while boosting service delivery."
The Minister directly addressed Gen Sitole and told him that it is important that he realises that the Constitution requires that the police ultimately be under civilian authority and that the Constitution requires the Minister of Police to direct and supervise the police. However, despite these comments made by the Minister, it is vital to keep politics out of the police. In fact, on 5 November 2017, the Minister told Popcru: "Let us depoliticise the SAPS. Let this be a professional organisation free of political parties head office gossipers who move from ear to ear with various promises of auctioned power."
After his introduction as the new police commissioner, Gen Sitole said that he would not bow to political pressure, adding that it was his duty to protect the integrity of the police. As he outlined his vision for SAPS, he made it clear that there would be no political interference as he executed his vision. Shortly after his appointment, Gen Sitole outlined his strategies which speak to combating gangsterism; reclaiming communities which are seen as a no-go area for police; fighting organised crime; working to end police killings; and reintroducing Operation Fiela to deal with political killings in provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal. He believes that, when implemented right, these strategies will reduce crime and protect the outcomes of the National Development Plan and the economy so that people will continue investing in our country and making a difference.
On this momentous day when Gen Sitole was handed the sword of command, the Minister further encouraged him to provide stability in the SAPS and to finalise the transformation and complete amalgamation of all 14 of the pre-democracy police agencies into a democratic SAPS in an equitable and fair manner. He said that the morale of all the personnel should be high on the agenda of the leadership of the SAPS and that every effort must be made to ensure the safety of our police members in the execution of their duties.
Speaking to the media after the ceremony, Gen Sitole said that one of his main priorities will be to create a united team of men and women in blue. Further-more, he wanted to rebuild public confidence in the police and said that confidence cannot be brought back without involving the public, therefore one of his strategies is to secure the public's involvement in policing and crime prevention.
The National Commissioner further told the media that his mandate was to ensure that economic growth was allowed to take place undisturbed and said: "I have a strong belief that, if there was economic stability, there would be no need for our communities to commit crime. Economic stability leads to social stability." Gen Sitole added that he wanted to make things easier for himself and had put plans into action to fight crime, adding that he does not want to spend a lot of time and resources to hunt criminals "whom I may already know where they are".
Servamus wants to congratulate Gen Sitole on his appointment and wants to wish him all of the best with the big task that lies ahead.